This blog has helped shed some light on the responsibility Disney has played in contrasting gender stereotypes and ideals. It’s important to note that Disney films did not create these ideals; they were already circulating in society and being depicted in other medias. Disney took these stereotypes: muscular man, strong man, fighting man, feminine girl, domestic girl, docile girl and virgin girl to educate young society on how to behave. They prepared children for the road ahead and informed them, that if they acted the way the heroes and heroines acted, they might too get a Prince of Princess of their own.
Disney used different techniques to exaggerate these gender stereotypes. Mirrors were used to emphasize society’s view on gender stereotypes. Different characters were used to show how to act and how not to act. Suttle clues where used to suggest whether or not a character was really part of dominant culture. For instance, count the number or times Gaston has a phallic object in his hand (mirror, knife, rock) – these objects emphasize that Gaston is lacking something.
Disney has kept this formula simple. Only using a hero, heroine and villain to tell its fairy tale. All other characters are depicted as a-sexual, old, weak or as inanimate objects. This helps children to distinguish what category they can be a part of – they can really only be a hero or heroine. Lastly, the stereotyping Disney continues to do, allows poets and critics to fight back – Anne Sexton writes her poem Snow White to emphasize the gender stereotypes that occurs in these films and bring light to the problems they bring. Instead of educating children by informing them of their respective gender roles, Disney should maybe consider opening its horizons and showing a little more diversity.
Well that’s the End of my Blog… and it lived happily ever after, showing the gender roles society values.
- Bell, Elizabeth. “Somatexts at the Disney Shop: Constructing the Pentimentos of Women’s Animation Body. From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender and Culture. Ed. Elizabeth Bell, Linda Haas and Laura Sells. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995. 107– 124. Print.
- Brazillia, Shuli. “Reading ‘Snow White’: The Mother’s Story.” Signs 15.3 (1990):515 -534.
- Erb, Cynthia. “Another World or the World of an Other? The Space of Romance in Recent Versions of Beauty and the Beast.” Cinema Journal, 34:4. 1995. 50-70.
- Jeffords, Susan. “The Curse of Masculinity: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender and Culture. Ed. Elizabeth Bell, Linda Haas and Laura Sells. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995. 161 – 172. Print.
- Lieberman, Marcia R. ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’: Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale.” College English 34.3 (1972): 383-395.
- Murphy, Patrick D. “The Whole Wide World Was Scrubbed Clean: The Andocentric Animation of Denatured Disney.” From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender and Culture. Ed. Elizabeth Bell, Linda Haas and Laura Sells. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995. 125 – 136. Print.
- Solis, Santiago. “Snow White and the Seven ‘Dwarfs’: Queercripped.” Hypatia 22.1 (2007): 114-131.
- Stone, Kay. “Things Walt Disney Never Told Us.” Journal of American Folklore 88(1975): 42 -50.
- Zipes, Jack. “Breaking the Disney Spell.” From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender and Culture. Ed. Elizabeth Bell, Linda Haas and Laura Sells. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995. 21-42. Print
- Sexton, Anne. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. web http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15300
In his remake of classic fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney set out to educate young society on how different genders should behave. Disney films reward their characters when they act the way Dominant Culture deems acceptable. Disney’s Young heroines are rewarded for their purity and beauty, while men are rewarded for their social status and masculinity. Furthermore, Disney contrasts characters to distinguish what is acceptable and what is not.
Snow White and the Evil Queen are depicted as oppositional forces. Snow White’s beauty is “idealized [at the] height of puberty” (Bell, 108). Once the young maiden hits puberty, she challenges the Queens status in Dominant Culture. Snow White has more to offer on the Cultural Market place, she is young, passive, beautiful and the epitome of domesticity. Comparatively, the Queen is old, assertive and in control. Disney contrasts these two characters to show what traits will be beneficial to women. Youth, passivity and domesticity allow Snow White to live in Dominant Culture, while age, jealousy and power takes a woman out of society.
Disney films have also shifted the social values it idealizes. Disney screenplay for Beauty and the Beast was written by Linda Woolverton, the first woman to write a screenplay for Disney (Bell, 114). Through her telling of this tale, she re-shapes the view of the ideal woman. Instead of being a passive woman stuck in a domestic role, Belle is a young girl who relishes reading books. While Belle is depicted as young, pure and still fantasizes and enjoys reading romances about Price Charming, she takes a more active role in her life. Belle not only chooses her husband, she shapes him into her version of the ideal man. Furthermore, she does not succumb to her societies ideal man. She goes in pursuit of her dreams and protects the ones she loves.
Therefore, Disney films use the value systems society has put in place. It informs younger generations of the gender stereotypes that should be practiced in society by insinuating if one follows the set rules, they will be rewarded by being part of Dominant society, marrying Prince Charmin or a young virginal beauty.
Society dictates what encompasses the ideal man. When discussing the importance of the gaze, I showed that women decide what values make up the perfect man. Which in turn, helps shape phallocentric society. It’s almost a what came first, the chicken or the egg. While women decide what they want in a man, men have been deciding what they want in a woman, shaping again what they (women) want in a man. Shall I continue?
Belle and Snow White’s choice of men, coincides with society’s view of phallocentric society. This occurs because there are few important characters in these fairy tales. The important characters include: the hero, the heroine and the villain. All other characters are depicted as either a-sexual or old (Lieberman, 391) and therefore, are not considered as potential suitors.
The 1937 Disney version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs “reinforce[s] the patriarchal symbolic order based on rigid notions of sexuality and gender” (Zipes, 27). The film focuses on a young virginal girl’s wish for a rich, white male, of high social status to find her. While she encounters other males throughout the tale, none fit her high expectations of what a man should be. Therefore, all of the male characters are defined in relation to Prince Charming (Barzilai, 525), and as a result, none surmount his status.
The huntsman is one of the many male figures Snow White encounters. He may be considered a-sexual (or impotent) as he does not fit into societal norms. The forest scene, where the huntsman encounters Snow White, parallels a rape scene. Instead of killing (or raping) Snow White, as he is told to do, he succumbs to her beauty and cries at her feet. His whimper “I can’t do it” shows him as a less then masculine man as he can neither kill nor have sex with her.
Moreover, the seven dwarfs are not only desexualized but are also infantilized. Each dwarf is depicted with either a physical or mental weakness creating a setting where Snow White can nurture and care for them like children (Solis, 126). There role in the tale helps maintain Snow White’s virginal status, but also helps prepare her for her future role as mother (126). Therefore, the Dwarfs are used to educate Snow White and allow her to practice being a domestic woman.
As a result of these character defects, neither the huntsman nor the dwarfs can possess Snow White. This responsibility can only be fulfilled by a male that is part of phallocentric society.
In Beauty and the Beast (released in 1991) there are two male figures vying for the fair maidens attention. Both Gaston and the Beast represent certain aspects of Dominant culture. These characters are an archetype for the ‘80s and ‘90s man. This fairy tale shows how men were archetyped as aggressive, violent men who gain emotions and realize the consequences of their ways. Furthermore, it shows a shift in the way society views the male body and the importance of internal reform (Jeffords, 165). All other men in the film are either small, boyish, old or inanimate objects.
Both Gaston and the Beast are artistically depicted with exaggerated male bodies. “Each is drawn as comically ‘phallic’, [with a] top heavy figure [that] rises and swells when he is angered” (Erb, 63). This physical depiction shows the way society views the ideal man. In an era bombarded with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone films (both releasing action films in the early ‘90s), phallocentric society dictated that men needed to be strong, violent, aggressive with some redeeming traits.
Gaston represents the old ideal of the perfect man, he is the epitome of the ’80s man. While everyone in the small provincial town adores him, the audience does not see him in the same light. This is because Gaston represents the stereotyped image of male attractiveness (Jeffords, 170). Gaston acknowledges his beauty and relishes in it. Unlike most men, Gaston also likes to be viewed as an object of pleasure (which is not a masculine characteristic). Furthermore, Gaston values are old and outdated. His search for a mate it solely based on beauty, once he acquires a wife, he wants her to fulfill all domestic responsibility: bearing children and being the domestic woman. He hopes to find this in Belle.
Gaston’s depiction in the tale is a reflection of the Prince’s (better known as Beast) flaw. As a result of all these character traits, arrogant, aggressive and insensitive, the Prince is cursed and turned into a monster. This change depicts the problem in the way society views men like Gaston. Through his transformation, the Beast becomes a new man. He learns and acquires new qualities that society values. Through his growth, the Beast is able to conform into Dominant Society and turn into a man. It’s interesting to note however, that while the Beast represents the new man, a man that is more sensitive and compassionate. Physically, he is still depicted as the ‘80s man, physically strong and muscular.
As a new man is immerging into phallocentric society, the old man must fight for his right to maintain his reign as the ideal man. This is what happens between Gaston and the Beats. Since the ideal woman (Belle) has feelings for the Beast, Gaston must protect his reputation. Therefore, Gaston tells his society all that is wrong with the Beast – what makes him not part of Dominant culture.
The Beast will only fight Gaston once he sees that Belle cares for him. Belle’s acknowledgment of the Beast ensures that he is part of Dominant culture. During this fight scene, Gaston attempts to emasculate the Beast by saying he’s to weak or sensitive to fight. Gaston further masculine’s himself by using a phallic weapon – once Gaston shows his weakness by begging for his life, he can no longer be part of the phallocentric society. Gaston further separates himself from this valued society as he cowardly tries to kill the Beast. This final act leads to his death and emphasizes that there is only one true man in phallocentric society. He is strong, honorable, companionate, rich, white and a prince!
Gender roles policed by our society has placed masculinity and femininity on either side of the gender spectrum. Men and women are not able to be equals, as men are trained to view women as objects of desire, while women are taught to be subservient to men and to be the epitome of domesticity. Looking at the gaze in Snow White and Beauty and the Beast once can see the separations and categorization that occurs as a result of gender roles.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves begin with a young beautiful Snow White signing “I’m wishing for the one I love, to find me, today”. Snow White begins to sing this song at a wishing well where her reflection is seen in the water. Her reflection is one of conventional beauty, hair perfectly placed, lips perfectly pout and eyes wide and doe shaped. Not even her ragged clothes can hide her beauty. Once, Prince Charming hears her song, he comes to gaze upon Snow White’s splendor. As their eyes meet, Snow White gasps “Oh, oh,” and runs away to hide from the Prince. Her leaving the Prince highlights her innocence and pure nature portrayed in Anne Sexton’s Snow White poem, as “She is unsoiled / She is as white as a bonefish” (Sexton, 12-13). The Prince gazes at Snow White and looks at her, not as an equal but as a product he must purchase. By gazing at Snow White, the Prince sings that her love possesses him. Her beauty alone is the driving force of this “love”, enticing the Price to purchase this beauty solely for himself.
Thus, Snow White’s beauty puts Prince Charming “under her spell” (Brazilai, 524), allowing her to achieve her goal of marrying the ideal phallocentric male; white, rich and physically strong. While Snow White is depicted as young, innocent and virginal, she still knows the power her gaze holds. After running away from Prince Charming, the fairest of them all continues to stair down at him from the balcony. She continues to promote herself as an object to be looked at and further encourages the Prices advantages by kissing a dove (which then kisses the Prince).
Thus, Snow White’s use of her beauty and the symbolic kiss encourages the Prince to marry her. And, as Snow White is the most desirable woman, the Phallocentric man must marry her.
Snow White does not only use this gaze with the Price, but also with the hunter and the seven dwarves. Once the Huntsman corners Snow White in the forest, he is unable to commit the murder the Queen charged him with. The huntsman sees Snow Whites beauty and succumbs to it. It is important to note that the huntsman disobeys the Evil Queen’s command by letting Snow White go. This occurs because Snow White has gained more authority through her looks and as a result has more right to live then the Queen.
When entering the Dwarfs cabin, Snow White uses her beauty again. The way in which she gazes at the seven dwarfs allows her to reside in the house while also maintaining her innocence and virginity. Snow White does not gaze upon the Dwarfs as she once did with Prince Charming. She does not lower her eyes and suggest that they view her as an object of pleasure. Instead, she looks onto them in a maternal way, calling them little children and offering to mother then and clean their home.
Snow White isn’t the only one to use her gaze to gain what she wants. Belle, Gaston and the Beast all use their gaze to emphasize gender ideals.
Both Gaston and the Beast’s gaze makes apparent that Belle is the ideal woman. Gaston’s gaze towards Belle is animalistic. He is gazing upon her solely as an object of desire, since she is the prettiest girl, he focuses on what he believes to be “her most valuable asset” (Lieberman, 385). Unlike Gaston, the Beast gazes on Belle as a possible savior. He is hopeful that Belle might be able to break his curse. Furthermore, the Beast gazes on Belle as a teacher, allowing her to play an active role in his rehabilitation into phallocentric identity. Thus, the Beast does not only look at Belle as an object of desire, he acknowledges her ability to teach him and looks to her as a teacher.
Belle’s gaze informs its audience how to act with different men. Belle looks at Gaston more cautiously, backing away from him. She does not accept that he looks at her as an object of pleasure. Instead, she makes herself look smaller and finds a way to remove herself from the situation (by telling Gaston she is not good enough for her and letting him out the door). When around Gaston, Belle does not look at him, this suggests to the audience that for Belle, Gaston is not the ideal man.
Comparatively, Belle does not always shy away from the Beast gaze. When first meeting the Beast Belle’s gaze is fearful. She does not want to fully look at him but overcomes her fears and does. Because the Beast is not part of Dominant culture, Belle is able to gain some dominance over him. She is able to use her gaze to manipulate the situation and become the Beasts prisoner. Belle knows her gaze, and more importantly her beauty is a valuable asset and presents it to the Beast.
As the Beast’s behavior changes, so does Belle’s gaze. She starts looking at him more compassionately, and dare I say romantically. At first, Belle’s gaze is more maternal as she teaches the Beast how to be human. Later, her gaze turns more romantically as she acknowledges the traits that Dominant society admires. As this happens, Belle becomes more aware of her physical looks and as Snow White did, she hides from the Beast.
Once the Beast becomes part of phallocentric society (by practicing all characteristics society deems valuable), the Beast turns into a human. His physical transformation is not complete until Belle acknowledges who he is. Once this occurs, both are allowed to marry as both fits into Dominant society.
The mirror plays an important role in Disney films. It informs its heroines, heroes and villains whether or not they are fitting into Society’s Dominant Culture. These Disney Characters look into the mirror for guidance, the mirror in return informs them of the cultural norms.
In Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the Evil Queen asks the question “Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all”. As she asks this question, the Evil Queen is ensuring that she is still part of Dominant Culture. The mirror is representing a “patriarchal voice of judgment that rules [her] self evaluation” (Barzilai, 521). Unfortunately, the mirror informs her that she is no longer deemed fairest of them all and as a result is no longer part of this society as she now has “brown spots on her hand /and four whiskers over her lip” (Sexton, 40 -41).
The Evil Queen looses her Dominant status because she is no longer seen as an object of desire. Men, especially the prince no longer value her beauty. Instead, they’ve moved on to ogle Snow White’s “lips red as rose, hair black as ebony and skin white as snow”, making her the ideal woman in dominant culture. This ideal in not only states by the magic mirror. The wishing well also affirms Snow White’s beauty. Singing at the wishing well, Snow White is wishing “for the one I love, to find me, today”. Once Prince Charming finds her, they both stand at the wishing well and see their reflection in the water. This reflection establishes their statuses in Dominant Culture, as they both embody what society deems valuable. Prince Charming is White, strong and rich, while Snow White is young, beautiful and innocent.
Women aren’t the only figures facing this judgment. Male characters in Disney also face the same discrimination at the hands of mirrors. In Beauty and the Beast, both Gaston and the Beast are connected to mirrors and to their physical traits (Erb, 63). Once Belle walks along the halls of the West Wing, she and the viewers see that the Beast has destroyed all mirrors and pictures of himself (you tube clip up to 2 minutes). The Beast is not able to see his reflection or look at paintings of his human self, as it reminds him of what he once was. Moreover, the mirrors force him to see that he is no longer human; therefore, further separating him from the Dominant Culture. Comparatively, Gaston loves admiring his beauty in the mirror. Gaston known that physically, he fits into Dominant cultural – as all the town folk either wants to be like or with Gaston. As a result, the mirror reinforces Gaston’s assertion that he is the perfect specimen of a man.
Sexism is defined by the OED as “originally: the state or condition of belonging to the male or female sex; categorization or reference on the basis of sex (now rare); (in later use) prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex”. The highlighted words show that sexism is an act that can be done against both men and women. The media’s portrayal of different gender values creates sexism by shaping the gender roles our society values. The following clip shows how the media shapes gender roles by slowly affecting the way people view the world and acceptable behaviors. Films, like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves show both boys and girls how they should view each other. Masculine men should be valued for their strength and aggressive nature – while Femininity is viewed through domesticity and nurturing. Furthermore, they inform the public on how to treat these genders. If the valued sex fits into these molds they are part of the dominant culture. In those instances, men can view women as objects of pleasure, to be looked at and acquired, while women can look at men as protectors and saviors. They have the strength and power to take women out of their plight and make brides out of them.
Both Beauty and the Beast and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves promote gender ideals through the act of marriage. In both these films, marriage is the central plot (Lieberman, 386), as Snow White is always wishing for her Price Charming to find her, Belle is reading romances about marriage and Princes. And the Beast needs to find love in order to free himself from his curse.
Therefore, through marriage women gain a handsome Prince, a man that can financially support them and take them out of their plight. In exchange, men receive their object of desire: a young, beautiful virgin to take care of their castle and produce healthy offspring with.
What does it mean to be a woman and what does it mean to be a man? Who chooses what characteristics are valued in these gender categories? The answer to that question is…. WE DO!
At a young age, society informs children what is socially valued and admired. Television, books, films, music and social influences police the ways in which children, and adults should behave. As a result, society has decided what we should want from men and woman, and what we should do to get such a man/woman.
This You Tube clip emphasizes the gender roles and ideals Disney films promote. Women are made to look and act one way while men another.
My blog will show the stereotypes society deems important and how these stereotypes create different gender identities and reinforce phallocentric ideals. Using Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Beauty and the Beast I will explore how Disney uses these tales to provide “its young viewers with an educational tool to learn societal sex roles and acceptable behaviors. [..] Learn[ing] behavioral and associational patterns and value systems” (Lieberman, 384). Looking at the female gaze, I will discuss how Belle and Snow White play an important role in dictating to society the characteristics of THE desirable man. Also, I will look at the differences in the feminine heroines of these two films. Thus, showing the shifting values of society.